Object: Bark Painting

Bark Painting
Materials: bark, wood, ocher

Bark paintings such as this one most often depict animals, humans, mythical beings, animal tracks and other more abstract symbols that are traditional to Aboriginal art. The symbols contained in Aboriginal art are drawn from cultural background as are the different styles of art most often generated by Aboriginal people – sand painting, bark painting, rock painting or body art.  These symbols often have a spiritual or religious meaning, but can be secular in nature as well.  Some symbols, for instance, can only be interpreted by members of the society that have been through a certain religious ritual and are unreadable to those who have not.  Some symbols represent ideas that are very familiar to the Aboriginal people but may not be readily interpreted by outsiders.  Symbols could also be used to keep a pictorial diary of important events.

Today, the art of this culture is in high demand on art markets all around the world and the methods used to produce it have become more modern with the use of canvas and synthetic  paint. The symbols depicted, though, have not changed for thousands of years.   Aboriginal art often contains symbols from Dreamtime stories.  To the Aborigines, Dreamtime is a time before creation, when the world was blank and ready to be filled with creatures and landscapes.   Dreamtime Stories are the tales about the creation of the Earth and all of the people and animals on it.  These tales are a large part of the oral and artistic traditions of the Australian native people and are traditionally told to young children as part of their education about the world.

There are several traditional styles of painting within this art type including the iconic dot painting found on so many pieces today.  The Dot painting is a means of depicting designs that were originally done as sand paintings using different colored sands, seeds, pebbles and other small natural objects.  Translated into paint on canvas, these sand motifs are represented using dots of paint.  Another style is Skeleton or X-Ray painting originating from the region of Western Arnhem Land over 2000 years ago.  In this style, internal organs and skeletons of figures and animals are depicted as well as solid objects.  The use of a stencil, mostly the human hand, is also very iconic for this type of art and is one of the oldest types of painting at over 4000 years old. [Katrina Kassis Swihart]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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